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DECEMBER 2003
Volume 96, Issue 2
 

GRAPHIC:  Also in every issueLETTERS
Upon what meat have you fed that you can…

Athlete, yes; scholar, no

Most people are interested in connecting with the past, but our view of the past must be clear-eyed. A “Hall of Fame,” such as the new Athletics Hall of Fame (October/03) at Chicago, implies that its honorees are worthy of emulation. However, some members of this hall were far from being models for the scholar-athlete.

An extreme example is Walter Eckersall, who—as the selections committee surely realized from Robin Lester’s (MAT’66, PhD’74) fine book, Stagg’s University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago—was a non-student athlete, never encouraged to pursue anything other than athletics. Eckersall was held up as a hero during his years of stardom—and promptly expelled at the end of his eligibility. His sad career reflects shamefully on the University, as well as on Harper, Stagg, and Judson, who exploited Eckersall until he was no longer of use. But Eckersall’s listing in the Hall of Fame’s Web site speaks only of his athletic triumphs, ignoring the context of his disgraceful student career.

It is appalling if the University truly considers Eckersall a role model—if the University really wants to return to the bad old days of big-time sports. In a recent letter to College alumni, John Boyer asserted that “Chicago had never diverged from the insistence that student athletes were students first and foremost.” If by “never” Boyer means “never in its history,” that is a serious misrepresentation; Stagg’s era was one in which student athletes were athletes first, and sometimes students not at all. In honoring Eckersall, the University seems to be implying that that was fine, and would be fine again.

The University must candidly face its past if it is to use that past as a guide. What is meant by including someone in the Athletics Hall of Fame, and, in particular, by including Eckersall? Will the University acknowledge its true past, or is the hall to be propaganda and fraud? What message does Mr. Randel wish to send?

Robert Michaelson, SB’66
Evanston, Illinois


The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters on its contents or on topics related to the University. Letters must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. We ask readers to keep correspondence to 300 words or less. Write:

Editor, University of Chicago Magazine,
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E-mail: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu


 


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